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Now action-man Putin takes aim at a grey whale

Vladimir Putin fired darts from a crossbow at a grey whale off Russia's Far East coast yesterday in the latest in a series of man-versus-nature stunts designed to cultivate the image of a macho leader.

The Russian Prime Minister held his balance in a rubber boat that was tossed around in choppy waters off the Kamchatka Peninsula and eventually hit the whale with a special arrow designed to collect skin samples.

"I hit it at the fourth try!" a beaming Mr Putin shouted to a camera crew. Speaking to reporters later, he replied jovially to a question about whether the endeavour was dangerous.

"Living in general is dangerous," he quipped. Asked why he got involved, he added: "Because I like it. I love the nature."